Science and Technology in the Ottoman Empire

Science and Technology in the Ottoman Empire

Science and Technology in the Ottoman Empire covers the topics related to achievements and distinguished events that happened during the existence of the empire. The study of scientific, cultural and intellectual aspects of Ottoman history is a very new area. The culturalist approach that blames "Oriental dogmatism" and "Islamic mentality" for the neglect of the scientific and technological achievements has been questioned as the collections on this subject are getting richer.

Initial studies show that Ottoman history is very rich in cases of Muslim encounters (interpretation and use) with modern western science and technology. Recent research has shown that the Ottoman Empire also made creative contributions to modern science and technology. The Islamic Golden Age was traditionally believed to have ended in the 13th century, [Matthew E. Falagas, Effie A. Zarkadoulia, George Samonis (2006). "Arab science in the golden age (750–1258 C.E.) and today", "The FASEB Journal" 20: 1581-6] but has been extended to the 15thGeorge Saliba (1994), "A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam", pp. 245, 250, 256-7, New York University Press, ISBN 0814780237] and 16thAhmad Y Hassan, [ Factors Behind the Decline of Islamic Science After the Sixteenth Century] ] centuries by recent scholarship, which has demonstrated that scientific activity continued in the Ottoman Empire in the west and in Persia in the east.

Translations and Collections

The Ottomans managed to build a very large collection of libraries. The purpose of their activities is may have been their desire to continue their conquests. For instance, Sultan Mehmet II ordered Georgios Amirutzes, a Greek scholar from Trabzon, to translate and make available to Ottoman educational institutions the geography book of Ptolemy. One of the oldest sources on the history and philosophy of Christianity was also developed for the palace school: the "İ'tikad nâme", a work on Christian beliefs by Patriarch Gennadious. Another example is mathematician Ali Qushji from Samarkand, who wrote twelve volumes on mathematics.


Advancement of Madrasah

The madrasah, which its first institution came forward during the Seljuk period, had reached its highest point during the Ottoman reign.

Technical Education

Considered as the world's first institution of higher learning specifically dedicated to engineering education, Istanbul Technical University has a history that began in 1773. It was founded by Sultan Mustafa III as the Imperial Naval Engineers' School (original name: Mühendishane-i Bahr-i Humayun), and it was originally dedicated to the training of ship builders and cartographers. In 1795 the scope of the school was broadened to train technical military staff for the modernizing Ottoman army. In 1845 the engineering function of the school was further widened with the addition of a program devoted to the training of architects. The scope and name of the school were extended and changed again in 1883 and in 1909 the school became a public engineering school which was aimed at training civil engineers who could provide the infrastructure for the rapidly building country.



In his "Concerning the Supposed Dependence of Astronomy upon Philosophy", Ali Kuşçu (1403-1474) rejected Aristotelian physics and completely separated natural philosophy from Islamic astronomy, allowing astronomy to become a purely empirical and mathematical science. This allowed him to explore alternatives to the Aristotelian notion of a stationery Earth, as he explored the idea of a moving Earth instead. He found empirical evidence for the Earth's rotation through his observation on comets and concluded, on the basis of empiricism rather than speculative philosophy, that the moving Earth theory is just as likely to be true as the stationary Earth theory.Harv|Ragep|2001a] [F. Jamil Ragep (2001), "Freeing Astronomy from Philosophy: An Aspect of Islamic Influence on Science", "Osiris", 2nd Series, Vol. 16, Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions, p. 49-64, 66-71.] [Edith Dudley Sylla, "Creation and nature", in Arthur Stephen McGrade (2003), p. 178-179, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521000637.]

Kuşçu also improved on Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī's planetary model and presented an alternative planetary model for Mercury. [George Saliba, "Arabic planetary theories after the eleventh century AD", in Rushdī Rāshid and Régis Morelon (1996), "Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science", p. 58-127 [123-124] , Routledge, ISBN 0415124107.]

Al-Din later built the Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in 1577, where he carried out astronomical observations until 1580. He produced a Zij (named "Unbored Pearl") and astronomical catalogues that were more accurate than those of his contemporaries, Tycho Brahe and Nicolaus Copernicus. Al-Din was also the first astronomer to employ a decimal point notation in his observations rather than the sexagesimal fractions used by his contemporaries and predecessors. He also made use of Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī's method of "three points observation". In "The Nabk Tree", Taqi al-Din described the three points as "two of them being in opposition in the ecliptic and the third in any desired place." He used this method to calculate the eccentricity of the Sun's orbit and the annual motion of the apogee, and so did Tycho Brahe and Copernicus shortly afterwards, though Taqi al-Din's values were more accurate, due to his his observational clock and other more accurate instruments.Sevim Tekeli, "Taqi al-Din", in Helaine Selin (1997), "Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures", Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 0792340663.] He also invented a variety of other astronomical instruments, including accurate mechanical astronomical clocks from 1556 to 1580 and a rudimentary telescope some time before 1574.

After the destruction of the Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in 1580, astronomical activity stagnated in the Ottoman Empire, until the introduction of Copernican heliocentrism in 1660, when the Ottoman scholar Ibrahim Efendi al-Zigetvari Tezkireci translated Noël Duret's French astronomical work (written in 1637) into Arabic. [citation|last=Zaken|first=Avner Ben|year=2004|title=The heavens of the sky and the heavens of the heart: the Ottoman cultural context for the introduction of post-Copernican astronomy|journal=The British Journal for the History of Science|publisher=Cambridge University Press|volume=37|pages=1-28]


The Piri Reis map was discovered in 1929 while Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey was being converted into a museum. It consists of a map drawn on gazelle skin, primarily detailing the western coast of Africa and the eastern coast of South America. The map is considered to have been drawn in 1513 by Piri Reis, a famous admiral of the Turkish fleet. The Piri Reis map was one of the earliest world maps to include the Americas, and perhaps the first to include Antarctica. His map of the world was considered the most accurate in the 16th century.


Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu was the author of the "Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye" ("Imperial Surgery"), the first illustrated surgical atlas, and the "Mücerrebname" ("On Attemption"). The "Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye" ("Imperial Surgery") was the first surgical atlas and the last major medical encyclopedia from the Islamic world. Though his work was largely based on Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi's "Al-Tasrif", Sabuncuoğlu introduced many innovations of his own. Female surgeons were also illustrated for the first time in the "Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye". [G. Bademci (2006), "First illustrations of female Neurosurgeons in the fifteenth century by Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu", "Neurocirugía" 17: 162-5]


In 1574, Taqi al-Din (1526–1585) wrote the last major Arabic work on optics, entitled "Kitab Nūr hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nūr haqīqat al-anzār" ("Book of the Light of the Pupil of Vision and the Light of the Truth of the Sights"), which contains experimental investigations in three volumes on vision, the light's reflection, and the light's refraction.cite web|author=Dr. Salim Ayduz|title=Taqi al-Din Ibn Ma’ruf: A Bio-Bibliographical Essay|url=|date=26 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-04)] The book deals with the structure of light, its diffusion and global refraction, and the relation between light and colour. In the first volume, he discusses "the nature of light, the source of light, the nature of the propagation of light, the formation of sight, and the effect of light on the eye and sight". In the second volume, he provides "experimental proof of the specular reflection of accidental as well as essential light, a complete formulation of the laws of reflection, and a description of the construction and use of a copper instrument for measuring reflections from plane, spherical, cylindrical, and conical mirrors, whether convex or concave." The third volume "analyses the important question of the variations light undergoes while travelling in mediums having different densities, i.e. the nature of refracted light, the formation of refraction, the nature of images formed by refracted light." He also invented an early rudimentary telescope.citation|first=Hüseyin Gazi|last=Topdemir|title=Takîyüddîn'in Optik Kitabi|publisher=Ministry of Culture Press, Ankara|year=1999 (cf. cite web|author=Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Topdemir|title=Taqi al-Din ibn Ma‘ruf and the Science of Optics: The Nature of Light and the Mechanism of Vision|publisher=FSTC Limited|url=|date=30 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-04)]

Al-Din also used astrophysics to explain the intromission model of vision. He stated since the stars are millions of kilometers away from the Earth and that the speed of light is constant, that if light had come from the eye, it would take too long for light "to travel to the star and come back to the eye. But this is not the case, since we see the star as soon as we open our eyes. Therefore the light must emerge from the object not from the eyes."citation|first=Hüseyin Gazi|last=Topdemir|title=Takîyüddîn'in Optik Kitabi|publisher=Ministery of Culture Press, Ankara|year=1999 (cf. cite web|author=Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Topdemir|title=Taqi al-Din ibn Ma‘ruf and the Science of Optics: The Nature of Light and the Mechanism of Vision|publisher=FSTC Limited|url=|date=30 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-04)]

cientific instruments

A rudimentary telescope was invented by Taqi al-Din, as described in his "Book of the Light of the Pupil of Vision and the Light of the Truth of the Sights" around 1574. He describes it as an instrument that makes objects located far away appear closer to the observer. He further states that the instrument helps to see distant objects in detail by bringing them very close. He also states that he wrote another earlier treatise explaining the way this instrument is made and used, suggesting that he invented it some time before 1574. However, it is not known whether he employed the instrument for his later astronomical observations at the Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din from 1577.citation|first=Hüseyin Gazi|last=Topdemir|title=Takîyüddîn'in Optik Kitabi|publisher=Ministery of Culture Press, Ankara|year=1999 (cf. cite web|author=Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Topdemir|title=Taqi al-Din ibn Ma‘ruf and the Science of Optics: The Nature of Light and theMechanism of Vision|publisher=FSTC Limited|url=|date=30 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-04)]

At his Istanbul observatory between 1577 and 1580, al-Din also invented the "mushabbaha bi'l manattiq", a framed sextant with cords for the determination of the equinoxes similar to what Tycho Brahe later used.cite encyclopedia | first = Sevim | last = Tekeli | title = Taqi al-Din | year = 1997 | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures | publisher = Kluwer Academic Publishers | ISBN = 0792340663 | url = ]

Mechanical technology

In 1551, Taqi al-Din In 1551, Taqi al-Din invented the first impulse steam turbine and described the first practical applications for a steam turbine as a prime mover for rotating a spit, also known as a smoke jack, predating Giovanni Branca's later impulse steam turbine from 1629. Al-Din described his invention in his book, "Al-Turuq al-saniyya fi al-alat al-ruhaniyya" ("The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines"), completed in 1551 AD (959 AH). He described the first practical steam turbine as a prime mover for the first steam-powered and self-rotating spit and smoke jack.Ahmad Y Hassan (1976), "Taqi al-Din and Arabic Mechanical Engineering", p. 34-35. Institute for the History of Arabic Science, University of Aleppo.]

In 1559, al-Din invented a six-cylinder 'Monobloc' pump. It was a hydropowered water-raising machine incorporating valves, suction and delivery pipes, piston rods with lead weights, trip levers with pin joints, and cams on the axle of a water-driven scoop-wheel. [Donald Routledge Hill, "Engineering", p. 779, in Harv|Rashed|Morelon|1996|pp=751-95] His 'Monobloc' pump could also create a partial vacuum, which was formed "as the lead weight moves upwards, it pulls the piston with it, creating vacuum which sucks the water through a non return clack valve into the piston cylinder."cite web|author=Salim Al-Hassani|title=The Machines of Al-Jazari and Taqi Al-Din|url=|publisher=22nd Annual Conference on the History of Arabic Sciences|date=23-25 October 2001|accessdate=2008-07-16]

Mechanical clocks

The first mechanical alarm clock, capable of striking an alarm at any time specified by the user, was invented by the Ottoman engineer Taqi al-Din. He described the alarm clock in his book, "The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks" ("Al-Kawākib al-durriyya fī wadh' al-bankāmat al-dawriyya"), published in 1559. His alarm clock was capable of sounding at a specified time, achieved by placing a peg on the dial wheel. At the requested time, the peg activated a ringing device.cite web|author=Al-Hassani, Salim|title=The Astronomical Clock of Taqi Al-Din: Virtual Reconstruction|publisher=FSTC|url=|date=19 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-02]

In the same treatise, Taqi al-Din described a mechanical astronomical clock called the "observational clock", which was the first to measure time in minutes. He made use of his mathematical knowledge to design three dials which showed the hours, degrees and minutes. He later improved the design of his observational clock to measure time in seconds in an astronomical treatise written at his Istanbul observatory of al-Din (1577–1580). He described his observational clock as "a mechanical clock with three dials which show the hours, the minutes, and the seconds". This was an important innovation in 16th-century practical astronomy, as previous clocks were not accurate enough to be used for astronomical purposes.cite encyclopedia | first = Sevim | last = Tekeli | title = Taqi al-Din | year = 1997 | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures | publisher = Kluwer Academic Publishers | ISBN = 0792340663 | url = ] He further improved the observational clock to use only one dial face, describing it as "a mechanical clock with a dial showing the hours, minutes and seconds and we divided every minute into five seconds". [citation|first=Aydin|last=Sayili|authorlink=Aydin Sayili|title=The Observatory in Islam|year=1991|pages=289–305 (cf. cite web|author=Ayduz, Salim|title=Taqi al-Din Ibn Ma’ruf: A Bio-Bibliographical Essay|url=|date=26 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-04)]

In "The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks", al-Din also invented the first astronomical clock to be powered by springs. This was also one of the first spring-powered mechanical clocks in general, developed around the same time as Peter Henlein in 1556.cite web|author=Salim Al-Hassani|title=The Astronomical Clock of Taqi Al-Din: Virtual Reconstruction|publisher=FSTC|url=|date=19 June 2008|accessdate=2008-07-02] He also developed one of the first spring-powered pocket watches,cite web|author=Donald Routledge Hill and Ahmad Y Hassan|title=Engineering in Arabic-Islamic Civilization|url=|work=History of Science and Technology in Islam|accessdate=2008-07-03] shortly after the first such watch was developed by Peter Henlein in 1524. Taqi al-Din's watch, however, was the first to measure time in minutes, by having three dials for the hours, degrees and minutes. Another early example of a watch which measured time in minutes was created by another Ottoman watchmaker, Meshur Sheyh Dede, in 1702. [citation|title=Topkapi’s Turkish Timepieces|first=Paul|last=Horton|year=1977|journal=Saudi Aramco World, July-August 1977|pages=10-13|url=|accessdate=2008-07-12]


While Abbas Ibn Firnas' hang glider in 875 was the first to have artificial wings, his flight was unsuccessful in landing. According to Evliya Çelebi in the early 17th century, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi was the first aviator to have made a successful flight with artificial wings between 1630-1632.Arslan Terzioglu (2007), "The First Attempts of Flight, Automatic Machines, Submarines and Rocket Technology in Turkish History", in "The Turks" (ed. H. C. Guzel), pp. 804-810.]

According to Evliya Çelebi, Lagari Hasan Çelebi launched himself in the air in a seven-winged rocket, which was composed of a large cage with a conical top filled with gunpowder. The flight was accomplished as a part of celebrations performed for the birth of Ottoman Emperor Murad IV's daughter in 1633. Evliya reported that Lagari made a soft landing in the Bosporus by using the wings attached to his body as a parachute after the gunpowder was consumed, foreshadowing the sea-landing methods of astronauts with parachutes after their voyages into outer space. Lagari's flight was estimated to have lasted about twenty seconds and the maximum height reached was around 300 metres. This was the first known example of a manned rocket and an artificially-powered aircraft.

On October 1, 1720, the Ottoman dockyard architect Ibrahim Efendi invented a submarine called the "tahtelbahir". The Ottoman writer Seyyid Vehbi, in his "Surname-i-Humayun", compared this submarine to an alligator. He recorded that during the circumcision ceremony for Sultan Ahmed III's sons, "the alligator-like submarine slowly emerged on the water and moved slowly to the sultan, and after staying on the sea for half an hour, submerged in the sea again to the great surprise of the public; then emerged one hour later, with five people walking outside the mouth of this alligator-like submarine, with trays of rice and "zerde" (a dish of sweetened rice) on their heads." He explained the technical information concerning the submarine "submerging in the sea and the crew being able to breath through pipes while under the sea".


The "Nesri Tarihi" in the 15th century states that the Ottoman army were regularly using guns and cannons from at least 1421-1422. The famous Janissary corps of the Ottoman army were using matchlock muskets as early as the 1440s.cite book| last = Nicolle| first = David| authorlink = David Nicolle| title = The Janissaries| publisher = Osprey| date = 1995| pages = 22| isbn = 1-85532-413-X] The first dated illustration of a matchlock mechanism in Europe dates to 1475.

The first supergun was the Great Turkish Bombard, used by the troops of Mehmed II to capture Constantinople in 1453. It had a 762 mm bore, and fired 680 kg (1500 lb) stones. The chief architect for the supergun was a Hungarian named Urban, who lived and worked in the Ottoman Empire.

The marching band and military band both have their origins in the Ottoman military band, performed by the Janissary since the 16th century. [citation|title=The impact of Turkish military bands on European court festivals in the 17th and 18th centuries|first=Edmund A.|last=Bowles|journal=Early Music|year=2006|volume=34|issue=4|publisher=Oxford University Press|pages=533-60]

See also

*Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi
*Piri Reis



* "History of Astronomy Literature during the Ottoman Period" by Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

External links

* [ Turkish Contributions to Scientific Work in Islam]

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